Brilliant lightning followed by a thunderous boom that shook the cabin had Tom sitting straight up in his bed before he was even awake. When he realized what was happening, he calmed himself. So it’s finally raining. Good. But as he rose and looked out the window, his thoughts continued, …but a storm? That might not be a good thing.
Conceding that his night was over, he pulled on his clothes. In the early morning light, he watched through the window as the forest trees moved with the wind. The occasional displays of lightning and continuous rumble of thunder made for an impressive show, but no rain fell. The storm seemed to be dying down, then offered one final, exhibition. Flashes of pulsating light illuminated the sky, accompanied by a resounding crescendo, which climaxed with a deafening clap of thunder. Tom watched as a blinding bolt of lightning struck a tall pine tree just a hundred feet away. An explosion followed, and with it, segments of burning tree trunk were launched in all directions.
Alarm coursed through his body as he watched the flickering flames take hold and devour the parched timber of the surrounding forest. A surge of adrenaline carried him out the door, intending to drive through the flames until he reached safety. Instead, he came to an abrupt halt, stunned by what he saw. The main trunk of the pine tree now lay across the narrow road, and the flames had already engulfed the encroaching undergrowth. He turned towards his SUV, ready to forge a new trail with the sturdy vehicle, and again was stopped in his tracks. Another chunk of burning tree was wedged inside the truck, and as he watched, it all went up in a ball of flames!
With no way to get to the road, Tom reversed his direction, retreating into the forest. Oh, Lord! Where can I go? There was a trail, but it was treacherous and he hesitated, until the ominous crash of a falling tree spurred him on. The wind had picked up again, carrying the acrid odor of smoke to his nostrils, and pushing the fire forward. Growing fear compelled him onward along the path. Soot-filled air burned his eyes and filled his lungs. Vines and brambles impeded his way, tripping him and tearing at his clothes, but Tom frantically continued to fight his way along.
The raging fire persistently advanced, seeming to pursue him through the forest. Coughing and barely able to see, he suddenly realized his path had led him to the edge of a shear cliff. With a drop of fifty feet, he knew that jumping would mean certain death. Desperate, he called out to God, “Is this the end, Lord? Is there no escape?”
At first, the crashing of a falling tree seemed to be his only answer. Then, loud thrashing sounds to his left spun him around to see a deer struggling through the brush at the edge of the precipice. Beyond the deer, through the smoke, Tom saw something else.
“A bridge!” Sparks and cinders fell on him as he ran. The ancient, moldering rope bridge looked far from safe, but Tom thanked God for it. “Jesus, hold me up,” he prayed as he took hold of the frayed ropes. One step, then two, stretching over the empty spaces, he moved across the decrepit structure. Every step produced the sound of boards cracking, and several times his foot broke through the rotting wood. The bridge creaked and groaned, swaying from side to side as he progressed.
“I’m here! Keep coming and I’ll grab you,” a voice called from the far side. Tom looked across to see a ranger urging him forward. New hope propelled him on.
“You might want to hurry, though.” He pointed and Tom turned to see that fire had reached the brush at the other side of the bridge.
Tom refocused on what he was doing as flames licked at the support posts and the bridge began to sag. He was almost there, but the last three boards were missing. In desperation, he lunged forward into outstretched arms, just as the bridge collapsed.
Minutes later, the ranger shook his head. “I believe we’ve just witnessed the hand of God at work.”
Tom nodded his agreement, too exhausted to speak.
The ranger looked him in the eye, then added, “No. You don’t understand. That bridge was supposed to be removed yesterday. They said it wasn’t safe.”
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